Call Me Max: A Picture Book Challenge

Call Me Max by Kyle Lukoff

April is Celebrate Diversity month. One way we can celebrate diversity is by supporting those whose books are being challenged. It is amazing how many books are challenged because characters are in some way diverse.

In March, a teacher in Austin, Texas read Call Me Max aloud to her class.

For those of you who don’t know the book, it is about a transgender boy who asks his teacher to call him Max. When friends, ask him why, he explains that he knows he is a boy because he wear’s boys clothes, climbs, trees and more. Various friends object to parts of his statement. A girl also likes to climb trees so it can’t be a boy thing. A boy likes to wear dresses so they can’t be girl things. Max considers what they have to say and then repeats that he knows he is a boy.

The beauty of this book is that although it is for transgendered children, it is a beautiful exploration of self. Any boy who wanted a doll, the girl who was criticized for wanting short hair, and more would benefit from this book.

But the teacher who read this book was criticized. Some parents demanded that she be fired. In response, Eanes Independent School District’s chief learning officer, Susan Fambrough explained to parents that the book, part of a diversity reading list, was admittedly inappropriate as a class read aloud. Any child who needed help dealing with the aftermath would be given counseling.

Think about it. A sweet book is inappropriate.

Counselors have been made available. As if there had been a school shooting. Or a natural disaster.

Not all parents objected to the book. Some objected to the district’s response. One couple, Jo and Jon Ivester pointed out that this response tells transgender children that they need to be invisible. They also pointed out that their transgender son would have benefited from this book when he was a student in the district.

Kyle Lukoff, the author of this book and a former elementary school librarian, wrote a public letter. He explained that he knows what it is like to put a book out for students and have mixed feelings. On the one hand, you hope that the right student finds it. On the other? You dread the anxiety and self-doubt that comes every time a book is challenged.

Don’t get me wrong. I encourage parenting. If you don’t think your child is ready for a book, don’t read it to them. Discuss things with your children. But don’t try to have a teacher fired for reading to your child. Don’t try to keep other children from hearing a book an age appropriate. You never know who may need to hear it or why.